North Otago refused to allow their Heartland campaign to fizzle out in Paeroa on Saturday by handing Thames Valley their first loss of the season.
In a fixture that was a must-win to keep the Old Golds’ Meads Cup aspirations alive, Mike Mullins’ side stood firm to hold out for the 19-15 win.
Hooker Ralph Darling opened the scoring after winger Simeli Koniferedi’s chase down off Robbie Smith’s well weighted kick forced a turnover in the sixth minute.
First five-eighth Ben Palmer duly converted for his first of an eventual 11 point return from the encounter.
Palmer was on target again on the quarter-hour mark with a neatly taken penalty to give North Otago a 10-0 advantage.
Thames Valley returned fire through a David Harrison penalty 30 minutes in, before Palmer rounded-off the first period with another well-taken penalty on the stroke of halftime for a 13-3 score line at the break.
Palmer notched his third penalty ten minutes into the second half before Thames Valley looked to stage the unlikeliest of fight backs.
With 25 minutes left on the clock a defensive error allowed Thames Valley winger Jason Laurich to storm through two tackles and race over the line for an unconverted try, which bred belief throughout the home side.
North Otago soaked the pressure up well until Blake Hill touched down from the breakdown, to ensure a captivating final five minutes.
Wing Josh Turner slotted the conversion to put his side within a point at 16-15 before Stephen Fenemor, who replaced Palmer, relieved the pressure by kicking a penalty inside Thames Valley’s twenty two metre line for a final score of 19-15.
North Otago will now look to take the same momentum to Forsyth Barr, where they will take on South Canterbury on Saturday, in week six of the Heartland Championship.
NORTH OTAGO 19 (Ralph Darling try; Ben Palmer 3 penalties, conversion; Stephen Fenemor penalty).
THAMES VALLEY 15 (Jason Laurich, Blake Hill tries; David Harrison penalty; Josh Turner conversion).
Heartland Championship results, week five;
Wanganui v East Coast, 44-7.
Horowhenua Kapiti v Wairarapa Bush, 12-9.
King Country v West Coast, 15-10.
Mid Canterbury v Buller, 19-29.
South Canterbury v Poverty Bay, 32-28.
By JAMES FORD